I realize it's been "The B.J. Penn Show" around here in the run-up to UFC 84, but I find him to be enormously compelling. To that effect, I found this interview with Josh Gross which sheds some light on how hard Penn was training for this fight:
Gross: A wrestler with excellent cardio -- would a fighter with that kind of style give you trouble?
Penn: That might give the old B.J. Penn trouble. Not really the wrestling part, it just depends on what kind of shape I came in and how serious I took the fight. I don't really feel that that style gives me trouble, and if Sean Sherk is going around saying that my style gives his style trouble, it's just because he's scared and he's trying to make himself feel comfortable about the fight. But it's not going to be fun.
Gross: How did Rudy Valentino treat you during training camp?
Penn: "Rudy V." was just telling me not to over-train. He knows how hard I was pushing and how hard I was doing everything -- every aspect of the whole game. We were sparring six rounds over six weeks out. Rudy V. was on top of me saying "don't over-train, you've got this already."
Gross: So you wanted to train more and he had to pull you back?
Penn: He just keep letting me know, kept talking in my ear that Sean Sherk isn't the best person I've ever fought. There's no reason to treat it like I'm fighting Fedor [Emelianenko] or something. It was like "OK, you can do this already. Let's go and kick his ass."
I read a biography of Penn a few months ago and in it, Penn himself describes the extent to which he became obsessed with jiu-jitsu when he first encountered it. All he could think about day and night was jiu-jitsu. Whether he was eating, showering or sleeping, somehow jiu-jitsu played into his mind. He literally became clinically obsessed with the sport. And with that obsession came the burning, unquenchable desire to conquer it, to unwrap its mysteries and flatten out its wrinkles. With respect to jiu-jitsu and Penn, we know how that story ends.
In my mind, this is the Penn who we see before us. Between maturity as a person and singular obsession with an identified goal, Penn is reverting into the young man obsessed with jiu-jitsu. The object of obsession has changed as has the person, but the result and effect are still the same. I, for one, believe Sherk is deeply underestimating Penn's ability, drive and focus. Sean Sherk is in trouble and come Saturday evening, I believe all of that will be revealed.